There’s been so many times in life where I said, “How can I hear God’s voice? I just want to know what God is saying to me so I can make the right decision! Which way am I supposed to go, Lord?” When there’s a big decision to make in life, you want nothing more than to simply know for certain what God is actually saying to you.
I especially remember feeling the weight and confusion of trying to hear God clearly in my young adult years because there were so many big decisions to be made at that time in life: Should I go on this mission’s trip or not? Should I go to school for this degree or that one? Should I change majors or stick with it? What career should I choose? Should I date her? What is a good period of time to date before being engaged? Should we get married? Should we go on this vacation or stay home? Should we buy this house or stay put? Should we become members of this church or that one? Is it time to start having kids?
In most cases, I remember thinking, “I really don’t care which option I’m supposed to choose right now. I just want to make sure I’m choosing the right one. If I could just clearly hear what God wants me to do and know for sure that’s his will for me, then I could be at peace.”
Knowing God’s will for your life and hearing God’s voice will always have elements of faith, so we will rarely get words painted in the sky leading us with unmistakable clarity. Peace comes through trusting God no matter what, even when you are uncertain of what’s ahead.
However, as Dallas Willard put it in his classic book, Hearing God, “Faith is not opposed to knowledge; it is opposed to sight.” Therefore, while we may not always be able to “see” everything that God has planned for us (thus the need for faith, Hebrews 11:1), there are still ways to “know” which way he is leading you.
In fact, I believe there are at least three specific ways in which God speaks. When you know where to look for the answers, hearing God’s voice becomes much easier. So here are the top three ways on how to hear God.
Point 1: Hear God Through Studying and Applying His Word
I imagine a thud on the other side of the screen when you just read point 1 on how to hear God. Reading the Bible seems so conservative and modest that it almost feels like a cop-out for me to offer it as advice on how to hear God’s voice. When people talk about hearing God’s voice, knowing God’s will, and choosing the “right path” that God wants them to take, they are typically looking for something a bit sexier and audible compared to reading the Bible.
But studying the Bible must always be the first piece of advice when it comes to hearing God’s voice and knowing his will because the Bible gives us the guardrails as we travel forward on the road of life. Doctrines may seem dogmatic, but they are foundational for our personal interactions and conversations with God.
Perhaps so many people find the Bible boring because they don’t really believe God speaks through it personally to them and their unique questions and circumstances. The Bible is exciting to read when you realize God uses it to send you personal messages of truth that directly apply to your life. Yes, the Bible is full of absolute truth, so I’m not saying each of us gets a unique truth from God. Rather, when we are listening closely to the Holy Spirit’s leading, we will get personal application points, applying God’s absolute truth to our very unique lives and questions.
If Hearing God’s Voice Is Not Guided By the Bible, You Will Always Doubt What You Hear
One of the problems I’ve noticed when it comes to hearing God’s voice is not knowing whether we are making his voice up in our heads or not. How can you trust you are actually hearing God? Perhaps you just want something so bad you are creating a false voice in your head and just doing what you want rather than what God is actually telling you to do.
The first way we can decipher God’s personal leading in our lives is to test it against his general truths outlined in Scripture. If you ever “hear God” saying he hates you, or that he wants you to commit an act specifically forbidden in Scripture, or that he is revealing a “new truth” that contradicts what is clearly outlined in the Bible, you are definitely not hearing God. What God says to you personally will never contradict what he has said to everyone through his written, infallible word. For example:
- If you are wondering if God is leading you to date or marry a certain person but that person is not a Christian and you are, you can be confident God is not leading you down that road because to be unequally yoked is expressly forbidden in the Bible (2 Corinthians 6:14).
- If you are wondering whether or not God wants you to financially support your local church, you can be sure that he is leading you this way because supporting those leaders practically who are benefiting you spiritually is commanded in the Bible (Galatians 6:6).
- If you are feeling led to go on a missions trip but you are not sure whether or not God is saying yes or no on you going or not, you can at least know through studying God’s word that he is in support of evangelism (Matthew 28:19). You may still need to pray about if you should go or not, but you have at least taken the first step in finding the answers you seek.
When it comes to hearing God’s voice, however, studying the Bible is not enough. We need to read the Scriptures first with the intent of discovering the original message and meaning of the author. But the Bible is living and active (Hebrews 4;12), which means that although it is filled with unchanging, absolute truth, the Holy Spirit uses Scripture to instruct us on personal decisions and issues unique to our individual circumstances. (For more on this, read the article, “Does God Speak Through the Bible or the Holy Spirit?”
Hearing God’s Voice Through Reading the Bible Is Not Done Through Bible-Roulette
You usually won’t hear God’s voice through reading the Bible by finding literal words and sentences that directly inform you on your question, “Yes, you should marry your boyfriend Joe because you randomly flipped to Matthew 1:18 and it talks about Mary being betrothed to Joseph.Clearly God must be sending you that message!”
More often the Holy Spirit will teach you a truth or principle in the Bible and then help you apply that truth to your individual circumstance. When you hear and then apply God’s word you can be sure you are hearing his voice and obeying his leading.
Sometimes to really understand what is being said, it helps to know what is not being said. What we are not saying is that hearing God’s voice through the Bible is done the same way as shaking a magical eight ball. While playing “Bible roulette” – which is when you randomly flip the Bible open and take the first thing you read as God’s voice to you – would be easier in some people’s opinion, it would not be beneficial.
How to Hear God’s Voice Through the Bible
God ultimately has given us his word not as a book of rules and instructions we need to learn; rather, it is ultimately a book about a person we need to know.You could certainly do worse than living your life strictly by biblical principles without God’s intimate leading.
But what is available to us through Jesus Christ is far greater than that. Because of what Jesus has done, we boldly come into the presence of God, casting all our anxieties on him and receiving personal direction and peace in return (1 Peter 5:7). Hebrews 4:15 states, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
So when it comes to hearing God’s voice through reading the Bible, I’m not saying you replace the intimate leading of the Holy Spirit with the physical pages of Scripture. It’s not Father, Son, and Holy Bible. The Holy Spirit certainly speaks to our hearts personally. But whenever the Holy Spirit speaks, his words will always align with the Bible. The Holy Spirit wrote the Bible (through the hands and personality of men), so it makes logical sense that what he spoke then will be consistent with what he is speaking to us now in our personal lives since God is never changing.
In point 2 of “How to hear God,” we talk more about “hearing God’s voice” through the Holy Spirit directly putting impressions on our hearts, but we had to start with the word of God.